If you like watching rebuilds, you’ll love the White Sox. Entering Rick Hahn’s seventh season as the Southsiders’ General Manager and the third-ish year of the actual rebuild phase, it’s time we start seeing the shiny names from the prospect lists entering the big league lineup. Top hitting prospect Eloy Jimenez broke camp with the club, and former top pitching farmhand Lucas Giolito had a sterling first outing in 2019 after a very shaky 2018. These names and others like Michael Kopech, recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Dylan Cease, still in the minors, need to pay some kind of dividend for the rebuild to be successful.
Then there’s Yoan Moncada. For a bit he was the top Sox prospect, the first face of a promising future. Now a veteran approaching his 1000th plate appearance, he’s still the standard bearer, the name that most know for the new age of baseball at 35th and Wentworth. It’s been a year and change that we’ve gotten to know Moncada as a major leaguer, a couple hundred games of mercurial, frustrating, nearly-there baseball. But one thing holds true - Yoan Moncada is ridiculous.
When you hear the word “toolsy”, it is used almost as a pejorative at times, a way to describe someone without real baseball skill but rife with raw talent. Minor leaguers that come over as throw-ins for trades get this label. Moncada is a perfect example of “toolsy” being nothing but praise. He is raw, unbridled talent, able to do about anything you want on a field. Making contact is a bit of an issue, as evidenced by his league-leading 217 strikeouts last year, though he did pack a 10.3 percent walk rate, tied for 45th in the game. He’s a flawed, amazing player.
And this year, it’s all on display. At this writing he’s hitting .450/.522/.900, an insane early season stat line that includes just nine hits, though five of those are for extra bases. One of them was this:
There are many mammoth blasts throughout the year across baseball, many a no-doubter that makes you chuckle ruefully at the overmatched pitcher’s attempts at competing, but that was an obliteration of a very unfortunate piece of rawhide. I would love to see the shape of that ball after it hit the bleachers. He did that in Kansas City too, and has been mashing these missiles all season. Take a look:
That he’s just blasting balls in the zone is one thing, but that he’s not going out of the zone early in the season is certainly an encouraging development for the Sox and Moncada. That’s likely to change, but that power is no joke.
Then there’s the fact that the White Sox moved Moncada to third this year after spending his major league career - and all but 95 games in Cuba - at second. That move is usually the opposite direction, when we realize the player can’t make the throw from third to first but still has elite reaction and range. Turns out, Moncada is incredible and doesn’t really care where he plays on the infield. Here’s a play he made in KC:
The running, the off-balance throw, the velocity on the ball, all of it is brilliant, ridiculous baseballing. It’s not an easy play, and certainly not one that most second basemen could make if abruptly moved off their position. It’s not his best play - that was a cannon shot with his heels on the outfield grass on grainy Soviet quality Spring Training video - but it’s a dazzling play all the same, a demonstration of just what he is.
There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot in the air for the White Sox as they put together what they hope is a consistent, long-term contender. Moncada isn’t everything he could be, not yet, and he probably won’t post a 1.400 OPS for much longer. He probably isn’t by the time you read this. But he’s got everything you hope for, just needing to put it together. When, rather than if, he does, it’ll be a lot of amazing baseball. That’s a good thing.
Merritt Rohlfing writes about baseball at places like Let’s Go Tribe and Beyond the Box Score, and will do it elsewhere if you’d like. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillLunch, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.